NEW YORK, May 19 (Reuters) - New York Democrats introduced legislation Thursday that would make it illegal for employers to disqualify out-of-work job-seekers solely because they are unemployed.
The bill would make unemployed individuals a protected class under state law, giving them the same legal protections against hiring discrimination currently afforded to other minorities and disadvantaged classes such as the physically disabled. It would also make it illegal for employers to post job listings that explicitly discourage unemployed individuals from applying.
"It is fundamentally unfair for employers to refuse to hire, or even accept applications from individuals who are out of work," said state Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
As an example, Stewart-Cousins pointed to a Craigslist ad for a building superintendent position in the Bronx that stated "You MUST currently be employed as a superintendent" to apply. That type of ad would be prohibited under the proposed legislation, she said.
Unemployment discrimination contributes to the growing problem of long-term unemployment by preventing out-of-work New Yorkers from getting back on their feet, Stewart-Cousins said. According to data released Thursday by the New York State Department of Labor, the state unemployment rate was 7.9 percent in April, down from 8.7 percent in April 2010.
The bill is sponsored in the New York Assembly by Assemblyman Keith Wright.
Senate Republicans had no immediate comment on the legislation.
NEW JERSEY LAW
New Jersey was the first state to ban a form of unemployment discrimination, with a bill that makes it illegal for employers to post jobs that state employment as a condition of either applying for or being hired for the position. It was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie in April, and is set to take effect on June 1.
There is currently no federal statute banning unemployment discrimination. However, Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, introduced the Fair Employment Act in March, which would amend federal discrimination rules to prohibit hiring practices that are biased against the unemployed.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently held a public hearing on the impact of employers considering only the currently employed when filling job vacancies. While there is no hard data available, EEOC officials said anecdotal evidence indicated that unemployment discrimination is a growing problem in jurisdictions around the country, particularly for individuals out of work for long stretches of time.
William Spriggs, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Policy, testified in February that unemployment discrimination may be connected to other forms of bias, including age and racial discrimination, particularly among protected groups such as African-Americans and Hispanics, who are overrepresented among the unemployed.
However, James Urban, a partner at Jones Day who represents employers, said he doubted reports of widespread unemployment discrimination. During the EEOC hearing, he testified that employers will naturally look at applicants' employment status in the hiring process to determine why they left their last jobs.
But that doesn't amount to discrimination, Urban argued at the hearing. For instance, if an individual was let go for performance-related reasons, the prospective employer would want to take that into consideration when making the hiring decision, Urban said.
(Reporting by Jessica Dye)